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What Next: Healing on the Sabbath?

Pope Francis scandalized some traditionalists by including two women (one Muslim, one Christian) in the group of inmates whose feet he washed at a juvenile detention facility in Rome.

The foot-washing ritual is one of the oldest services in Christianity. In the time of Christ, slaves were supposed to wash the feet of their masters’ guests: a necessary and disagreeable task in a time when people often wore sandals or walked barefoot and donkeys, horses and camels left their calling cards on the roads where people walked, and where many cities and towns had no facilities other than the street for human sewage.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus shocked his disciples by washing their feet, an example that still today is seen by Christians as representing the (rarely reached) humble, service oriented ideal of what leadership should look like. Kings, bishops and others would wash the feet of the poor on the Thursday before Easter in the centuries since.

Some Vatican traditionalists think that Catholic clerics and particularly popes should only wash the feet of men at these services. This isn’t (as some Muslims and others might think) about ideals of sexual purity and contact between the sexes. For the traditionalists, it is about the ordination of women. Jesus had many close women friends, but the twelve disciples were all male and the twelve apostles (as the disciples were known later) are the original bishops and priests of the Catholic Church. Traditionalists fear that any fuzzing of the line around the all male apostles could open the door to women priests.

Via Meadia takes no stance on such matters; we think every religious group should make its own decisions on questions of internal organization and discipline. But we note that the founder of Christianity was a rule breaker. There wasn’t a PC bone in his body. He hung out with prostitutes, thieves, terrorists and collaborators with Rome.  He was notorious for shoving the rulebook aside when it got in love’s way.

In reminding us all of this side of Jesus, Francis, we must say, seems to be starting his papacy out on the right foot.

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  • Ben Lombardi

    I am what you would call a traditional Catholic. I am also completely unoffended by what the Pope did in washing the feet of a Muslim and a women. The act is supposed to be about love and humility, not dogma. I do not, for one single second, believe that Islam is a peaceful religion or that it is compatible with Christianity (despite what JP2 wrote), but a Muslim is still a human being and entitled to have his human dignity respected. That is, to my mind, what the ritual of washing feet signifies, nothing else.
    I am leery of Pope Francis’s demand that the chuirch be a “poor” institution, because I fear that he places too much faith (a carefully chosen word) on the liberation theology his part of the world is famous for. But, so far, I am quite relaxed about his deviations from tradition — you are absolutely correct, Jesus was never PC!

  • charlesrwilliams

    The pope can change the liturgy as he chooses but is it a good thing for the pope to violate his own rules? At the very least the Vatican should announce that a change in the rules is in the works. It is not humility for the legislator to put himself above the law.

    The rules here are very clear. The men whose feet are to be washed represent the hierarchy and the message is that the hierarchy should imitate Jesus Christ in serving others.

    It would have been better for Pope Francis to do the foot washing before the mass and then change the rules.

    Part of the problem here is the large number of Catholic priests who act as if the liturgy is theirs to play around with as they see fit. Pope Francis has encouraged this arrogance and disorder by his actions.

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